country singer bantering with the crowd

Stage Banter and Your Live Show

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Working on the music, the visual, and most of the transitions for a show usually takes up most of a rehearsal time. So when I first started working with artists on their live show, and we’d get to places where the front man needed to introduce the band, tell a story, do a song intro or verbal transition, I’d go along with them when they said, “I’ll talk here,” or “I’ll put some stage banter here.” I didn’t want to waste potentially good rehearsal time on something all of us do every day: talk.

Then I saw those artists onstage.

Talking doesn’t always come naturally

I found out pretty quickly that talking and conversation doesn’t come naturally to everybody when they’re standing on stage. In fact, people often revert to clichés we’ve heard a millions times from other bad front people: “This song is about,” “Here’s a little tune I wrote,” “Are you having a good time?” “We’re gonna slow it down a little bit” — or my favorite cover band banter, “We’re gonna do a little Led Zeppelin.” I want them to do a big Led Zeppelin — why is it always “little?”

Sometimes you go to a show and the artist rambles on and on about how he wrote the song, when he wrote the song, where he wrote the song, and what’s going on in the world today. It’s more of a political State of the Union address than an introduction! I want to stand up and scream, “Just play the freaking song already!”

On the other extreme, some artists say “My music speaks for itself.” They barely say two words to the audience in a 60 minute show, and you don’t know any more about them when they leave the stage than when they first got on the stage.

Don’t misunderstand — there’s nothing wrong with playful banter on stage, telling a story to set up a song, or playing songs back to back without saying a word. But when speaking from the stage, there are some concepts you can learn about how to banter to keep an audience engaged and avoid awkward silence or rambling nonsense.

Not all banter is created equal

Crafting effective stage banter can prove to be a challenge for many performers. It requires a delicate balance between engaging the audience and maintaining the professionalism of the performance. The spontaneity of banter can be daunting, as it often requires quick wit and improvisational skills. Furthermore, the diverse composition of audiences and the need for universal relatability complicate the task. The risk of misjudging the tone or making inappropriate comments looms. Successful stage banter demands an understanding of the audience, timing, and a sense of appropriateness to ensure a harmonious and memorable live performance experience.

First, you need to know you aren’t trying to accomplish the same thing every time you speak during a show. Let me give you a few examples of why you often need to talk:

1. Introductions

There are two places I recommend introducing the band. A short, quick intro after the first or second song to let them know who you are; and later, near the end of the show, after you’ve won the right to ask for applause, a more in-depth introduction of every person in the band. This is where understanding how to promote your band effectively hinges on your elevator pitch.

2. Transitions

Just as there are musical transitions, there are verbal transitions, sometimes using humor and other times more serious or heartfelt. Most of them are short, and these transitions simply help keep the momentum going in the show.

3. Setting up a song

I work with many artists to set up a song or two in their show with storytelling — what prompted the writing, what it means to them, and so on. A compelling story will help an audience connect emotionally to certain songs.

4. Audience participation

Audiences like to be a part of your show. There is actually a very effective technique to this often playful exchange. I wish I could go into depth, but it is more complicated than one blog post allows! So let me give you a tip on how not to do it. Don’t mumble something into the mic, then hold the mic out to the audience, and expect everyone in the room to join in. Your instructions need to be understood!

5. Pitching merch

Again, this needs to be after you’ve won the right to ask your audience to buy something. Hopefully, because your show is so awesome, you’ve given them a reason why they should buy — now, you tell them how and where to get it. You can even ask for merch ideas! Be clear. Not salesy — but clear.

Rehearse your live performance

These are just a few of the most common places artists need to speak to their audience — certainly by no means all of them. But ask yourself as you rehearse your live performance — is this a quick transition, am I setting up a song with a story, am I introducing the band here, trying to inspire people — what am I trying to do verbally?

Bantering and stage conversation is like preparing a meal. Even if you’re a gifted cook, you still probably wouldn’t cook a five-course meal every night. One night you cook a five-course meal for friends and family because you have the time and are trying to accomplish an atmosphere conducive to relaxing, talking, entertaining (storytelling).

The next night you only have an hour between work and going out to see a play. You don’t cook a five-course meal — you grab a burger at the drive-through (transition).

Maybe you are meeting people for the first time. You might meet them for coffee or a quick lunch just to introduce yourself (introduction).

You’re hosting a beach party, so you start a big bonfire and barbecue hot dogs and hamburgers, fill ice chests with cold drinks, and the focus is on the fun not the food (audience participation).

Why are you talking?

That’s the way it needs to be with talking to your audience. Know why you’re talking, when it’s appropriate to do it, and what you’re trying to accomplish. If you have the gift of gab it would be wrong to serve your audience a 5-course meal every song. But even if speaking makes you nervous, you can’t let everyone go hungry!

Either way, recognize what you are trying to accomplish, work it out, woodshed it, and bring it to rehearsal. Verbal communication between human beings is an important part of life… and your show. So whether you’re naturally comfortable speaking to a crowd or not, it’s important to develop those verbal skills onstage, which can go a long way towards keeping your audience captivated and engaged.

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About Tom Jackson

Tom Jackson is a world renowned live music producer, author of the book Tom Jackson’s Live Music Method and the All Roads Lead to the Stage DVD series, and master at transforming an artist's live show into a magical experience for the audience. Tom has worked with hundreds of artists in every genre, including major artists like Taylor Swift, The Band Perry, Jars of Clay, and more. He also shares his expertise as a speaker at colleges, conferences, and events worldwide. To start learning the process of a great live show, check out OnstageSuccess.com.

15 thoughts on “Stage Banter and Your Live Show

  1. Pingback: Dump the Stage Fright and Boost Your Stage Presence | Disc Makers Blog
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  4. Let’s not forget that other favorite cliche, “HELLO, CLEVELAND (FILL IN CITY OF THE MOMENT HERE)” …and saying little else beyond that. As I’ve often said, “My first name isn’t ‘Cleveland,’ or whatever city you happen to be visiting at the moment.”

  5. I’m curious. Did you use a photo of Fee Waybill because he does what you suggest or are you using him as an example of what not to do?

    1. The fact that it’s Fee Waybill in the pic is entirely coincidental. I just thought it caught a nice moment of a frontman communicating with the crowd.

  6. HA! I love that line about “here’s a ‘little’ Zepplin”. I always wonder who came up with that phrase “here’s a little (insert band here)” and why the hell people keep using such a stupid cliche. What does it even mean? You’re going to do a portion of a song? Your going to bring kids up on stage? I think it’s probably something that DJs started saying, but it was dumb the first time someone said it and it’s dumb now. Good article and good info though. I agree that some stage banter actually does have to be rehearsed. If not with the band (in fact may be better to surprise them too) then the front person should practice alone. Especially if it’s a song intro that’s more than a few sentences. We’ve all been there seeing someone ramble and mumble on stage, and it’s not pretty.

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